By Amanda Perkins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Mountain Grove Panthers return nearly their entire team after navigating a tough schedule last season, and 22-year head coach Duane Hiler returns to lead them.
“Our biggest strength right now is experience,” said Hiler. “Most of them have had to start since they were freshmen; we’ve only graduated three kids in the past two years. So this whole group had to grow up early because they got thrown to the wolves pretty quickly. They are bigger and stronger now, and two years ago we were 14-year-olds playing against 18-year-olds.”
Last year, the Panthers ended their season to Liberty in district play, finishing with a 9-15 record. Their one graduate was Gaven Charlton, a guard who averaged 8 points and 3 rebounds per game.
Hiler brings back his leading scorer in Kaden Bruce. Bruce is a 6’0 senior who put up 12.6 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists per game last season. The all-conference, all-district point guard “really runs the team,” said Hiler. “He’s a good slasher, a good shooter, and reads the floor well.”
Senior Jase Dowden, a 6’3” center, has been the leading rebounder for the past two years, pulling down an average of 5.6 per night. “He’s our main inside presence,” said Hiler, noting he also scored 8.4 points per game. Dowden earned an all-conference honorable mention.
Isaiah Hellbusch is a 6’0 senior who transferred in last year. Hiler said he’s a high energy kid who plays hard all the time and is a good rebounder. “Probably the best thing he does is his mid-range game,” he added.
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Bryce Stenzel plays the two spot at guard as a 6’1” senior. “He’s a very good scorer and shooter and does a good job of guarding,” said Hiler. Stenzel averaged 8.1 points and 3 rebounds per game.
Junior Tyson Elliott is also an all-conference and all-district award winner and a two-year starter as a junior. The 6’1” guard averaged 8.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. “He’s very smart and makes all the right decisions, and is pretty much the brains of the team,” said Hiler. “He’s a good scorer and defensive player.”
Hollen Glenn is an athletic junior who runs the floor and attacks the basket well. The defensive specialist added four points and two rebounds per game last season.
Drew Vaughn is a 6’0 junior who is “an excellent shooter and very athletic” per his coach.
Kyle Penner is a 6’6” junior who can play inside and outside at his size. “He grew up a ton this off year and we expect a lot of good things out of him.”
“Bradley Henry is going to be a nice player too,” said Hiler of the 6’2” sophomore. “He’s very athletic and does a lot of things well.”
Nick Archer and Andrew Norris are both juniors who could contribute to the team.
“I’m pretty proud of this group,” said Coach Hiler. “They’ve stuck with it. We expect to be very competitive in the conference and hopefully come district time, we can make a little noise.”
The Panthers open their season November 23 at Springfield Catholic.